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County Council, February 5

Administrator’s contract extended
Council stretches definition of “tourist-related” in latest grant
Warwick Jones

Council meetings are usually brief, yesterday’s was no exception. Most issues are decided at the Finance Committee on the Thursday before. But two items not on the agenda of the last Committee meeting precipitated a special meeting yesterday. The items were the retention of the County Administrator and an application by the St Andrews Parks and Playgrounds for funds to buy a property in West Ashley.

There was little discussion about both items, a fact perhaps explained by a lengthy executive session before the voting on each item. Council members voted to extend Mr. “Mac” Canterbury’s contract by another year to the end of 2009 and to raise his salary by 5%. Mr. Canterbury’s present salary is slightly more than $174,000 a year.

Highly regarded by Council
Mr. Canterbury was retained by the County about 2 years ago as a temporary replacement to the outgoing Administrator. He was previously a Deputy Administrator with the County and had retired. Considering the remarks of Council members over the last year or so, his tenure has been marked with success and accomplishment. All Council members, bar Thurmond, voted to extend his contract and for the salary increase. Council member Thurmond later stated that his vote against the increase was not personally directed against the Administrator. He was concerned about the increasing cost of government and his vote was consistent with others he had cast.

As the Post and Courier pointed out, Mr. Canterbury is close to the highest paid County Administrator in S.C. As Charleston is one of the largest, we don’t see this as being unusual (and nor did the P&C). However, it may be a sticking point with staff that Council awards an increase in salary slightly greater than most staff members are likely to receive. This may not be an issue for it is also our sense that staff is very respectful and admiring of his efforts.

Chairman Scott applauds Council
And on that note, it is worth while recording the comments of Chairman Scott last night on Council generally. He said that in his 13 years on Council, it never had such a diverse group of Council members. He noted that this had brought a diversity of views and sometimes large differences. But diversity has “served the Council well and this is what it takes to be successful”.

We would endorse the Chairman’s view. Discussion on Council has sometimes been tense and heated. But at all times, it has been civil though on a few occasions, barely. But no bitterness lingers, at least on the surface, and the differences that persist when spoken of by members, are often wrapped in phrases of humor. It seems that no member fears intimidation, and all speak their minds.

And we applaud Chairman Scott
We would also praise Chairman Scott for encouraging this environment. As Chairman he has often found the right words, comments and wisdom to defuse situations that could have turned nasty. His style of humor, often self-deprecating, puts smiles on the faces of the most intent Council members.

Strange use of Accommodation Fee funds
The other issue was a request for funding to purchase a 2.7 acre property on Dogwood Road in West Ashley. The property was sought by St. Andrews Parks and Playground Commission and was to be used as a park. An application had been made to the Urban Grants Review Committee (UGRC) for greenbelt funds derived from the half- cent sales tax.

Greenbelt funds can be used only to purchase land
The stumbling block was the valuation and the existence of a house on the property. It is the policy of the County, shaped by the Greenbelt Plan to allocate greenbelt funds only for the purchase of land and to allocate no more than an independent valuation. The valuation of the property was $520,000 but of this amount, $155,000 reflected the value of the house. So the UGRC approved a grant of only $320,000, the value of the raw land.

Accommodation Fee funds to be used
The Commission said that it could not proceed on this basis and approached Council. In its wisdom, Council approved the $520,000. In a motion made by Council member Bostic and seconded by Council member Condon, greenbelt funding through the sales tax would be $320,000, the balance of $155,000, would come from the Accommodation Fee funds.

This raised our eyebrows. The Accommodation Fee? The funds from this Fee are derived largely from tourists. By law, the funds directed back to the County or municipalities are to support projects or organizations that generate tourist-based revenues. Council member Bostic stretched credulity by referring to the creation of Tourist Corridor, which would draw tourists. He didn’t say but should have said that Dogwood Road is off the tourist track in the Pierpont area of West Ashley. Yes it is close to Route 61 but would tourists really use this park for picnics, reunions etc?

Council member Darby also skeptical
Mr. Bostic’s hope/claim was also a little too much for Council member Darby who said he could not see how this purchase could be linked to tourism. The project may be worthwhile, but the funds beyond those provided by the sales tax should not come from the Fee. Mr. Bostic then modified his comment and that the proposed park would be “utilized” by tourist rather than “draw” tourists.

Not withstanding Council member Schweers spoke in a similar vein to Council member Darby and when it came to the final vote only two Council members opposed the use of Accommodation Fee funds – Schweers and Inabinett.

The property is in the electorate of Council member Condon.

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